Ready for Election Day ... 2014! Three Dozen Gubernatorial Contests Await

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 05, 2013 2 min read
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I’ve written about the potential impacts of this year’s governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia on education, and I’ve also taken a very close look at a proposed tax hike for public schools in Colorado. Compared to most years, however, 2013’s slate of elections is pretty thin. But what about next year?

The good news for education politics junkies is that 36 gubernatorial elections will take place in 2014, as well as eight races for state superintendent. In those governors’ races, 31 incumbents are either running again or are eligible to do so. One of the main themes for next year’s elections is that many seismic shifts in state K-12 policies were made possible by the 2010 elections that saw the rise of several powerful Republican governors. GOP chief executives such as Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Rick Scott (Florida), Rick Snyder (Michigan), and Tom Corbett (Pennsylvania) have had big impacts on school accountability, K-12 funding, the power of education unions, school choice, and a variety of other areas affecting public schools.

In Florida, the 2014 election for governor is already generating news, with former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement that he’ll toss his hat into the ring ... as a Democrat this time. He’s already whacked Scott for cutting education funding early in his tenure, and accused Scott of caring so little about K-12 that “he didn’t even come to his own education summit.” It will be interesting to see how strongly the Florida teachers’ unions battle for Crist to triumph over Scott, who’s had a rough relationship with those unions.

And of course, most importantly, for each state that might kick out one of those GOP governors, his or her successor could freeze or roll back those fundamental changes to K-12.

In some cases, it might be a stretch to say that the governors’ K-12 policy preferences, in and of themselves, will directly impact their re-election chances. But many education advocates and political groups have very strong feelings, for and against, regarding many of these incumbents. (Think of the animosity between the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers’ union, and Walker.) So the extent to which these organizations feel motivated to battle against or on behalf of these Republican leaders could help decide their fates.

Another election factor could be the Common Core State Standards. Again, will the common core itself be decisive at the polls? Probably not, but governors might be forced to publicly defend their support for the standards, with possibly awkward results for some. Will some GOP governors soft-pedal or somehow disavow their support for the standards in 2014? (Rick Scott has certainly downplayed the importance of the standards.) Remember, the standards were adopted by states before those pivotal 2010 elections. No state has thrown the common core overboard, but could the 2014 elections ultimately change that perfect batting average?

And what about those state superintendents? California K-12 boss Tom Torlakson faces a challenge from Marshall Tuck, who’s had a high-profile turn at a few education organizations in Los Angeles. John Huppenthal in Arizona and Janet Barresi in Oklahoma are also up for re-election. As for John Barge, in Georgia, he’s running ... but not for re-election. He’s gunning for the governor’s job in the Peach State.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.